The Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park is a national treasure tucked away on the Eureka waterfront. The millworks produces historically accurate, custom-made building parts and materials for the restoration of Victorian and other antique structures. It also hosts a craftsman’s village, a school, and even a radio station.
The guiding genius behind the Blue Ox is Eric Hollenbeck, a Eureka native. He has produced pieces for historic cathedrals, two governor’s mansions, and has worked for the White House twice under two presidents. His jobs have come in from as far away as Kamisu, Japan.
Eric formed Blue Ox Logging and Lumber Company about 40 years ago. The company performed salvage logging with great care and respect for the natural environment and prospered briefly, but during a downturn in the logging industry in the early seventies the market for logs dried up and many mills closed their doors.
Eric wanted to be able to cut up his logs, and drooled over photographs of gleaming, brand new milling equipment in catalogs. Alas, they were beyond his means. What he could afford, and what he ended up buying, were ancient, rusting pieces of “junk” that nobody else wanted. He lovingly restored them and put them to work. One thing led to another, and soon The Blue Ox Millworks was up and running, producing authentic old fashioned parts for the many Victorian homes that dot Eureka, using authentic old fashioned equipment and techniques.
Much of Blue Ox’s equipment is extremely rare, some of it dating back to just after the Civil War. The millworks has evolved into a sort of living museum, and receives visitors from all over the world, including senators, representatives, cabinet members, and foreign dignitaries. The historic park is a sort of artisan’s village which encompasses many Victorian-era trades including of course woodworking as well as blacksmithing, printing, ceramics and plastering. They also have a full time high school, in partnership with the Humboldt County Office of Education, which combines a regular curriculum with hands-on traditional skill acquisition. There is a logging skid camp too; it includes a bunk house, theater and cook house.
In addition to tours, inexpensive workshops are available, where people can forge a nail in the blacksmith’s shop, and make their own ceramic tile.